LEE Filters Masters of Photography – Colin Prior

Scotland based landscape photographer Colin Prior has been taking pictures for more than thirty years. He made his name shooting panoramic images of Scotland’s mountains and wilderness areas and also travelled widely shooting for clients
such as British Airways. He continues to be inspired by the natural world. I visited him in his studio just outside of
Glasgow to discuss his work. Hi Colin, thank you for inviting us here today. We’re going to talk about three of your images and go into a bit of detail about the story
behind them and how each of them marks a particular point
in your photographic career. This is quite an important one, can you tell us where it was taken and how
it came about? This was the first big image I shot with the
617 format. It was a really important moment in my photographic
career because when this light eventually appeared it illuminated the landscape like a giant
theatre lamp. I’ve never ever witnessed light like that again. It was also an important moment for me because
when I left that mountain, I’d made up my mind what was important in
photography and what was trivial. It was the beginning of a new and exciting
journey, where I organised my life into a way that
allowed me to go and do this on a regular basis. Once you made that decision about what was important and what was trivial, what was it that became important to you? Just to be there as the sole witness of these
events. No one else saw that that evening and I realised what a privilege it was just
to be there and witness it, but also to record it so that other people
could experience what I had felt there at that particular moment
in time. In terms of technicalities of the image, what camera and lens were you using? This was shot with a Linhof 617s, it used roll film and had a mounted large
format lens on it. With the sky just being a bit hot, I used
a 0.6ND graduated filter, it’s just held back the luminosity in the sky so there’s a lovely balance between the foreground, mid-ground and the
background. So would the point of gradation been somewhere
around these clouds? Yes that’s right, with the 617 camera it was always critical where you placed the graduated filter, because unlike a DSLR you couldn’t see through
the lens. So it was just experience that allowed you
to know exactly where to put the filter. How much of a challenge was it to get to this
point where you’re making a picture like this? This was taken at sunset and in many ways sunset images are actually
easier to achieve. You can walk up during the day and can linger
there until the sun goes through that phase that
you want it to. The orange, red and purple hues are something that drives me up these mountains
day and night. So the first image we spoke about was shot
in 1990, this one brings us up a little bit more recently
to 2009. It looks like it might have a quite interesting
story behind it tell us a bit about it. It was a bit breezy as you can see, it was a full-blown tempest and I was on a
small Icebreaker. As we neared the coast of East Greenland we came across this huge tabular iceberg. It was taking the full force of this tempest and the waves were rolling vertically along
the face of the iceberg. It was just the most spectacular moment! I was shooting with a digital Hasselblad camera and due to the lack of light was forced to
up the ISO to 800, not withstanding that it produced a great
result. As you can see the sky was pretty grey and
feature less and again I had a 0.6ND grad in there just to try and add some relief to the sky. Are these mountains here? Yes they are. So you needed to bring out the incredibly
subtle detail. The sky was almost totally white so I needed to try and get some density in it and the ND grad worked really well there. When you’ve got a straight line like that it’s just the perfect edge to drop the gradation
on to. Would that have been a hard grad? No that was a soft grad. I don’t like too dramatic skies and I feel that good filtration is invisible
filtration. Having a solid mass in the sea gave you something against where you could really see the state
of the sea. You’re thinking about the message, you’re thinking about the technicalities such
as the grad and the lens you’re using and presumably after a number of years that
all becomes second nature. Yes it does, that’s the craft part of photography, which is reasonably straightforward to learn. The hard bit is the artistic side and composition. You’ve got to feel images from your heart, and have the technical skill and ability to
get what you’re feeling into a two dimensional medium that sums up what you saw and felt at that
moment. So this is our third image and it brings us up to the present day. I think it’s fair to say that this is a project
that’s consumed you. Yes both mentally and physically I think! The Karakoram is a group of mountains in Pakistan and I’d made up my mind to create a body of
work and photograph them in away that hadn’t been
done before. There are four 8,000m peaks in a relatively
small region of the Karakoram. But it’s really the shapes of the mountains
there, you’ve got these minarets, towers and cathedrals and there are mountains that also look like
pyramids. This image was shot from a campsite called
Urdukas and it’s probably got one of the best viewpoints
in the world. On that particular morning there was a lot
of cloud about but it dissipated and for about five minutes we had some light that came through from the
east and the cloud opened up from the west. Technically is it a difficult place to photograph? Yes indeed, as you can see this is a black and white image and I’ve decided that the forthcoming book will be completely black and white. You can see here there is snow on the shoulders but it’s largely fallen off these vertical
faces. For a photographer this is what makes it so
exciting, you’ve got this contrast and for black and white
images it’s really superb. Do you find that you need filters when you’re
working in the Karakoram? Is it different from working in Scotland? It’s not dissimilar, there are the same changing
weather patterns and I’m using ND grads here on a pretty regular
basis. I imagine when you’re working in such an epic
landscape as this, is there the temptation to include as much
as you possibly can in the frame? How do you distill it down to what we see here
within the boundaries of this frame? I think the key to all good landscape photography is thinking about the subject in a subtractive way. You can see in this composition, I’ve used a 70-200mm Canon lens and I’ve distilled the essence of this mountain mass. It’s quite complex, but we’ve got this lovely tonality, there’s a wide range of tonal features in
the photograph and also a lovely blend of light and shadow. It’s an incredible structure and it’s about focusing on the key elements of it. Had we shot a wider image this wouldn’t of
had the same visual impact. Just look at the different angles and shapes, where else would you find this? There are few other mountain ranges in the world that have got this structure and inspiring
nature. The Karakoram for me has it all.

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19 thoughts on “LEE Filters Masters of Photography – Colin Prior

  1. Excellent few minutes of quality video, Colin is a wonderful landscape photographer and his love for his craft comes through in his language.
    When he uses the word "privileged " its humbling , more power to him and thanks for this.

  2. A brilliant interviewer who asked the right, intelligent questions enabling Mr Prior to relay his passion and demonstrate his amazing skill.

  3. The photos are boring, could have taken them with the iPhone. Nothing like the other photographers stunning images in the series

  4. I do not understand why there are negative comments regarding the interviewer. Before I read these I watched the video and thought that she did a fantastic job of asking photography-relevant questions on each image, almost mimicking what came into my head as the video played. Needless to say, I was blown away with the quality and composition of the images reviewed. Thank you.

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